Compared to last year’s record-breaking field of entries, the 31 competing products at this year’s U.S. Cannabis Cup in Denver showed less diversity and originality overall. Increasingly complicated regulations have put a chill on the edibles industry, with new requirements for packaging, labeling and product design placing additional hurdles in front of manufacturers.
Rules intended to protect new recreational consumers mandate cannabis-infused products be separated into portions of 10 milligrams of THC each, with no products allowed to exceed 100 mg of THC total. Medical patients can still access products with higher dosage levels intended to replace pharmaceutical painkillers or sleep aids. Several cannabis safety educational campaigns have launched, aimed at informing consumers of the need to “start low and go slow” when imbibing edibles, consuming only 10 milligrams of THC before waiting several hours.
As a judge, dosage advice has become increasingly important when evaluating products. Companies should let consumers know exactly how much to eat and how long to wait before eating more with clear, concise instructions. Along with taste, appearance, healthiness, potency (measured by lab testing) and originality, products are also awarded points based on packaging and label information.
More emphasis has also been placed on rewarding entries whose lab-test results perfectly match their label claims for THC content, providing their customers with a consistent, predictable experience every time.
During “The Emerging Edibles Industry” panel discussion, industry leaders weighed in on these and other developments. Julie Dooley from Julie’s Natural Edibles, Timothy McDowell from MarQaha, Jaime Lewis from Mountain Medicine and Bad Kat Smiles from Bad Kat’s Cannapharm all shared their wisdom and experiences.
The future for the edibles industry is unclear, and while improvements in packaging and product design should ease the concerns of the authorities, activists will need to continue to fight ridiculous regulations to ensure people can access this important plant medicine in smokeless forms.
Note: This review has been updated from an earlier version, and lab test results have mostly been omitted. Until state-regulated standards are set in place for cannabis testing labs, the reliability of results for infused foods is questionable.
First Place Winner
Bubba Kush Root Beer 100 mg
Keef Cola Signature
This amazing product tastes just like regular root beer and instantly conjured ideas of combining it with some cannabis-infused ice cream to make a fantastical float! Intended for Colorado medical patients, this was the only product that nailed their lab test almost perfectly with results indicating 101.95 milligrams of THC present. The one criticism shared by judges was the need for a re-sealable screw-top cap to save portions of the drink for later use, along with more concise dosage advice. An incremental strip down the side intended to help measure a 10 milligram dose of THC would also be appreciated.
Second Place Winner
This combination of vanilla latte, espresso and caramel flavors comes in newly designed childproof (aka stoner-proof) packaging. Intended to reduce accidental ingestion, the tabs must be squeezed together to allow the lock to slide open. Unable to open it myself, I resorted to using tweezers. While it was easy to re-seal, it was so difficult to open that most people will probably cut it with scissors, somewhat defeating the purpose.
With the most professional packaging and clear, concise dosage advice consisting of “Take 1 Square, Wait two hours” and ‘The serving size of THC in this product is 10 mg, this product contains 10 servings of marijuana, and the total amount of active THC in this product is 100 mg. Do not exceed serving size,” Incredibles scored very highly across all categories with the judges.
Third Place Winner
Orange Creamsicle Creampop
Sacred Sweets with Trichome Heavy Extractions and DNA (collaborative effort)
This tasty orange creamsicle comes ‘Charged with Carnelian Gemstones,’ a non-physical ingredient that I can certainly appreciate. While the labeling could use a design upgrade with clear dosage advice, the Creampop also nailed the competition lab testing, with label claims of 54.73 mg THC / 20.27mg CBD (for a total of 75 mg activated cannabinoids), being just about matched in reality with results of 51.95 mg THC and 17.5 mg CBD, only slightly less than promised.
L’Atelier Canna Truffles – Chef’s Assortment
TC Labs / TC Treats
The “Chef’s Assortment” consists of Strawberry Shortcake, Fruity Pebbles, S’mores, and Raspberry Bacon truffles, each claiming 50 mg of THC. While the Strawberry Shortcake was by far my favorite truffle, most judges liked all four. An innovative effort, this entry would have been improved by sticking with one flavor and executing it perfectly, not diluting the experience by adding too many options.
This medicated chocolate chip ice cream sandwich scored highly with judges, with label claims of 150 mg THC and 50 mg CBD. The generic packaging could use an upgrade with concise dosage advice because at this strength many people would need to cut the Hashwich into at least four pieces.
The Hashwich tastes heavily like hash and was a bit squished when it came out of its bag, so perhaps a box or clamshell would protect the product better and make it look more appealing.
This powdered cocoa mix advised mixing with hot water, coffee or cold milk to create infused chocolate milk. While the generic packaging definitely could use an upgrade with better dosage advice—since 100 mg is NOT one serving—the idea itself was really cool and the judges enjoyed it. “Perfect for camping!” one hiker exclaimed, while others appreciated the shelf-stability and ability to discreetly medicate as needed.
Bhang 180 mg Bite
A chewy cannabis-infused version of a popular mainstream Tootsie Roll, this chocolate truffle is billed as ‘The Bite.’ This “triple-strength” treat packs 180 mg of THC into a small package. Clear ‘consumption advice’ instructs patients to eat only 1/4 of a truffle and wait for an hour before eating any more. A quarter of 180 mg equals 45 milligrams of THC, which is double what most patients would eat in one serving. So be safe and divide the Bite into smaller pieces if you’re a new user.
Well-executed and tasty, this product uses some high-quality, simple ingredients like agave syrup, cocoa powder and milk rather than artificial flavors or the dreaded high-fructose corn syrup.
Fully Baked Ice Cream
Nectar Bee by The Green Solution
This pint of Indica Peanut Butter Crunch was delicious, creamy and rich, with a nice texture and only a hint of cannabis taste. Claiming 100 mg THC per pint, the packaging and labeling are superb, with excellent dosage advice reading: “Serving size: 20 mg / The serving size of active THC in this product is 10 mg, this product contains 10 servings of marijuana, and the total amount of active THC is 100 mg.”
It would be great to have dosage tied to a measurable amount such as tablespoons so consumers would know how much to eat in order to take in 10 mg of THC. Overall, a fantastic product that needs a bit of attention to make it to the winner’s circle.
Bonus: Make your own Hash Candy Chunk Ice Cream!
Cherry Almond 80 mg Chocolate Bar
This easy-to-dose bar contains dried sour cherries, black cherry and almonds along with a high-quality dark chocolate, making a sumptuous gourmet treat that’s easy to dose. The small bar is marked incrementally, so it’s simple to decide how much THC to consume. Great dosage information advises “80 mg THC / 8 doses / We recommend consuming no more than 10 mg THC every two hours.”
Bonus: Make Cannabis Chocolate Coffee with a recipe from Blue Kudu!
As always, the Reef Jerky from Badfish is an extremely tasty, healthy option that scores big on originality and is a hit with judges. While Badfish has continued to have the same great taste, this excellent, healthy savory product fell short of the winner’s circle due to concerns over its labeling. Judges felt the need for better cannabis warnings and dosage advice, presented in a more legible typeface.
Bonus: Make BHO Barbeque Sauce with a recipe from Badfish!
Marijuana N’ Munchies
This homemade pastry filled with black forest ham, cheddar cheese and broccoli imitates a well-known mainstream convenience food, even using a “crisping sleeve” cribbed from the original. Zapping this Pot Pocket marked the first time I’ve ever microwaved an edible. The re-heated Pot Pocket is certainly tasty and is a nice savory option for people with busy lives.
However, the only dosage advice we got was “150 mg shatter,” while customers really need concise dosage advice along with THC potency listed in milligrams in order to decide how much to consume. Our lab testing found 19.02 mg of THC and 78.46 mg of THCa, meaning that much potential THC failed to be converted into psychoactive THC due to a faulty infusion process. Overall, this Pot Pocket was a fun, inventive effort that could really succeed with refined execution, lab-tested potency info and clear dosage advice.
One Hit Wonder – FlasQ
This Fruit Punch packs 60 mg THC per bottle in nicely designed packaging that looks like cough syrup. The drink is like a fruit-punch-flavored tincture with a pronounced cannabis taste, so I would recommend people add it to tea or hot water. Demarcations along the side of the bottle allow you to measure your dose, which is much appreciated. Serving size and dosage are clearly explained, with one dose being one-sixth of a bottle.
Bonus: Make medicated punch with a recipe from MarQaha!
Milk Chocolate Caramel Bite, Mint Cookies & Cream Bite, Sea Salted Dark Chocolate Bite and Chocolate Coconut Bite
Each different flavor from Mountain Medicine arrived in new pharmaceutical grade packaging that isolates 10 mg THC per serving in a little button-sized blister pack that must be popped out according to the directions. The new stoner-proof packaging is aimed at preventing accidental ingestion and should be an effective way to make eating cannabis safer for new users. The new packaging was spot on, and we appreciate Mountain Medicine being proactive about cannabis safety.
This Baby Ruth-style candy bar was really scrumptious with no cannabis flavor except for a slight hash aftertaste. The generic packaging listed a total THC content of 100 milligrams and stated a “Recommended dose is 10 mg of THC,’ but there’s no marks on the bar to help you break up your dose accordingly. With upgraded packaging and a bar portioned into 4 or 5 pieces, this candy bar would have been a staunch competitor.
White Chocolate Horchata Bar
Medi Brothers & Tree Sap
Judges were very intrigued by the idea of a horchata flavored bar, and no one was disappointed by the taste! The bar was original and interesting with a nice crunchy texture.
While we appreciated the ingredients list and nutrition facts label, we felt the label needed better dosage advice, especially with a potency claim of 200 mg of THC, which would be a hefty dose for a new user. Some warnings were given, but dosage advice of ‘please be patient and start off with a small dose’ is not specific enough, when most consumers should start with no more than 10 or 20 mg and wait two hours. The bar is scored into 5 segments, but is each piece 40 mg? If so, there’s no indication of that fact on the label.